John Verran (1856 – 1932) miner, premier
The ministers of the Primitive Methodist Church encouraged John Verran to read and influenced him by their support of trade unionism. Through teaching in the Sunday School and through preaching, he learned to argue a case in public. Apart from the Methodist Church and Freemasonry, Verran’s main interest was the temperance movement. His parliamentary speeches were replete with Biblical allusions and stories were repeated for years about his idiosyncratic sermons.
John Verran’s family migrated to South Australia in 1857, living for eight years in Kapunda before moving to the Cornish settlement at Moonta. Having received only a few months elementary education, at the age of 10 John started work as a ‘pickey-table boy’ in the copper-mines. The ministers of the Primitive Methodist Church encouraged him to read and influenced him by their support of trade unionism.
Through teaching in the Sunday School and through preaching, he learned to argue a case in public and was later to say, ‘I am an M.P. because I am a P.M.’ After a short spell gold-mining in Queensland, Verran returned to Moonta where he was a miner for over thirty years and a popular president of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association (1895-1913). As a gradual reformist, he was suspicious of direct action. On 21 February 1880 at Moonta he had married Catherine Trembath (d.1914); they were to have eight children.
Defeated in the elections of 1896 and 1899, Verran was returned as Labor member for Wallaroo in the South Australian House of Assembly by-election of 1901. In 1909, on the death of Tom Price, premier of a Labor-Liberal coalition, Verran took over the Labor leadership and the coalition was dissolved. Labor won the subsequent election and on 3 June 1910 he became premier of the first all-Labor government in South Australia; he was also commissioner of public works.
The bluff, flamboyant Verran was short and stout, with a goatee that had been full and black in his youth. While he often used Cornish idiom, his grammatical lapses gave a comical dimension to his repartee: ‘Ef yore brains wuz dynamite and they wuz to iggsplode, ‘twouldn’t blaw yer ‘at off’. His parliamentary speeches were replete with Biblical allusions and stories were repeated for years about his idiosyncratic sermons: ‘There are no flies on God’ was one of his comments on the divinity. ‘Honest John’ was an ‘unconventional champion of the conventions’ who was respected even when he espoused unpopular causes.
Apart from the Methodist Church and Freemasonry, Verran’s main interest was the temperance movement. He had signed the pledge as a young man and joined the Rechabites. ‘Your signboard has fallen down’, he once said to a publican, pointing to a drunkard in the gutter. Verran often appeared on temperance platforms, especially during the State referendum on early-closing in 1915.
Complete article : http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A120358b.htm
Moonta, South Australia : Hotbead of Methodism
In the late 18th Century various sects arose as a result of the activities of Anglican preachers John and Charles Wesley. These were the Methodists. With their empathy for the poorer classes of England they attracted converts among miners, particularly those in Cornwall. When they came to Moonta they brought their religion with them. Originally, there were many sects of Methodism in Moonta which led to the creation of up to 5 Methodist churches in the area. Today two survive, these are the Moonta Mines church in the Moonta Mines area and the town church in Robert Street. The Moonta Mines Church was built in 1865, just 4 years after the discovery of copper. It is one of the largest churches in Australia with a seating capacity of 1,200 (two levels of seating). The Canberra theatre can seat 1,500. The Moonta Methodist church is also quite large.
The Church in Moonta Mines was remarkable in the sense that it was probably built by church goers who did hard physical work all day in the mines and then built their own cottages in their spare time. That they could also build a large church in such a short time is a tribute to their faith. They did not need a City to Surf run to keep fit.
The Moonta Methodists had a large impact on the politics of South Australia particularly through their involvement in the labour movement. Early methodists were opposed to all forms of gambling and alcohol. South Australia has a religious composition quite different to other Australian States. It has more protestants (mainly non-conformist and Lutheran) and fewer Catholics.
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